In recent weeks, Clifford has been meeting with Councils across the Southern Metropolitan Region to discuss his plans for a Private Members Bill to give local residents more say in planning issues. 

He is very pleased to report that the feedback so far has been very positive. 

For example on 13 June, Cliff met with the Mayor of Whitehorse Council, Cr. Bill Bennett.

Cliff was very encouraged by Cr Bennett’s support for the idea of returning more control to Councils. He said that Whitehorse Council was concerned about overdevelopment, and believed that VCAT should be obliged to follow Council Local Planning Policies, rather than free to override them.

At the moment, developers who appeal a Whitehorse Council planning decision to VCAT have a 50% success rate! Clearly the work that Councils do gets treated with contempt by VCAT.

It was also encouraging to discover how Whitehorse Council takes tree protection. Cr Bennett said that Whitehorse’s urban forest canopy currently covers from 22%-26% of the municipality, and that Council’s aim is to increase the canopy cover to at least 30% by 2030.

Council is not only planting new trees to achieve this, but taking real action to protect the all important mature trees. It has a Vegetation Protection Overlay for properties with trees recognised as having special qualities, such as historical significance, impressive size, biodiversity or habitat value or contributing to neighbourhood character. Within the Vegetation Protection Overlay a planning permit is required to remove, destroy or lop a protected tree.

Council also has Significant Landscape Overlays to conserve and enhance the character of significant landscapes. Within these Overlays a permit is required to remove, destroy or lop a protected tree. Council has a Significant Landscape Overlay 9, where a planning permit is required for any works within 4 metres of a protected tree. Council has a temporary control in place, and has asked the Minister for Planning to make this control permanent. 

Council’s planning enforcement officers step in if tree protection controls are ignored and take enforcement action. As Whitehorse says, trees clean our air, filter our rain runoff, reduce our energy consumption, mitigate the effects of global warming and provide habitat for wildlife. They are a critical factor in human health and wellbeing, making us calm and reducing stress.